Sunday, July 16, 2006 road blog 9

A glamorous life. 7/15/06Great first show of the second leg of touring for Greenland last night at the "new" 9:30 club in Washington DC. A splendid venue with great sound, staff, food and a dressing room with...unbelievable! penises drawn on the walls! Why do musicians draw huge penises on the walls of dressing rooms? Insecurity? Do they think this will get them laid? Trust me morons, this is not something women want to see if you are lucky enough to escort one back there. Visiting Moms and aunts don't want to see it either. Of course here in the 9:30 dressing room there IS a highly stylized and oddly sexual Grecian painting on the dome ceiling. Hmmm. There are also clean bunks where a musician can afford him (or her) self the rare luxury of a nap. This club gets a 10 on the 1 to 10 scale. A far cry from the original 9:30 of yesteryear which although legendary, was in actuality a hellish little punk rock dive with a low, cramped stage with support beams that half hid the performers from the crowd. Perhaps a blessing on some nights. There was a storeroom/dressing room with overhead pipes that were a regular thoroughfare for big rats looking to pilfer your rider (backstage food). I remember stomping my boot at one such brazen rodent who looked up and hissed at me fearlessly before sauntering off into a hole in the wall with a tortilla chip.

At the moment I am sitting behind David as he drives through the upstate New York downpour as we try to find our way around construction riddled road detours to the gig near Albany NY. At around 2:30 AM in DC last night, after settling the business, loading out the equipment, signing CDs and T-shirts we hauled ass to our hotel to steal a precious few hours of sleep. Up at 7 am to grab a coffee and hopefully some rider scraps we'd stuffed in our backpacks from the night before we head out to the next adventure. I awake sleep addled and befuddled after having snoozed in the back seat most of the 8 hour drive while David and Wayne (our temporary tour manager from South Carolina) take turns at the wheel. Load in was supposed to be at 3:30 and due to the weather and construction delays it is now 6:20. Sometimes routing and variables just fuck up the best laid plans. Yikes....we are at the venue. Time to snap out of it and move gear in the rain! Yeeeha!!! Over and out..... Johnny and the grizzled veterans of the road.

7/15/06 3 am. Frank sleeps peacefully in the next bed...his traditional post show Sambuca numbing his weary soul to slumber. The band played their asses off tonight. On a 1 to 10 it's a solid 9 show.

7/16/06 Hoorah....we got to sleep till 11!! We are on a punctual course to Poughkeepsie until one of the trailer tires blows out on the highway. Today being Sunday, it takes some phone scrambling but we find an open RV outlet and buy a new wheel. They have no separate tires so we buy the whole enchilada, rim and all. Once again we head toward a late load in. 2 opening bands tonight. Sound check? Probably not. Dicks on the dressing room walls? Probably. I'll check in with you later my friends.

PS: Just got another report from Pioneertown about the fire. All the historical buildings still standing...including Pappy and Harriet's and the big barn up the road where we recorded Kerosene Hat. David's cabin has very likely burned down. No access to the road up to it yet but the satellite photos do not bode well.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 road blog 8

6/20/06 "SITTING IN" Ahhh.... I have been invited to "sit in" tonight with my friends Counting Crows. They are co-headlining a show with The Goo Goo Dolls at the legendary Red Rocks amphitheater on July 5th.

I first met Counting Crows about thirteen years ago when they rolled up in a cluttered, crowded van behind a great club called Ziggy's in Raleigh/Durham North Carolina in the fall of 1993. They were there to begin a run of shows performing as Cracker's opening or "support" band. Our second album "Kerosene Hat" had just been released but had yet to ascend to the level of success it gradually afforded us over the following year. Counting Crows had just finished recording what would become one of the most successful debut albums of the decade "August And Everything After". At that moment though, there back at Ziggy's years ago they were simply our new, relatively unknown opening band. Always keen to meet the people we were to be sharing a stage and traveling with for the next month or so, I went over to say hello. David introduced me to them, having had a small connection with them from the San Francisco area where his former band Camper Van Beethoven were local legends. They seemed eager, excited and friendly enough. When I caught their show for the first time that humid southern evening I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a young band that had refreshingly little in common with the "grunge" sound that was so prevalent, much imitated and overdone at the time. Nothing against the talented originators of that scene, but these guys seemed to draw much more inspiration from The Band or Van Morrison than from Alice in Chains, Soundgarden or Nirvana. Here was this dread-locked young guy with a strong, soulful voice flailing and wailing over a gorgeous, swirly mix of organ, bass, drums and guitars. The songs were steeped in deceptively simple, seductive melodies. The guitars rang more than screamed. The singer emoted and phrased in his own sweetly broken yet powerful kind of way, supported by a band that possessed an intuitive sense of dynamics, seducing the crowd with a quiet, steady hypnotic groove, building to massive mid song crescendos, then ending with a whisper. Over the next few weeks I remember thinking to myself that if there was any justice in this unpredictable, often corrupt business (there rarely is) these guys should succeed. Little did anyone know back then how successful they would become or that that David would co-produce a great album with the band "This Desert Life" years later and that by that time they would be known the world over.

Over the course of a few tours with Cracker, Counting Crows scored big with their first radio hit "Mr Jones" and we began opening shows for them. We were soon fortunate with the success of "Low", followed by "Get Off This" and also moved ahead a square on the big chess board of the music business. This happens a lot in our world. As we soared past bands we previously opened for, so did Counting Crows and so will many more new bands to come. I actually like this aspect of our huge and fractured profession. It is our version of the time worn "be nice to the man in the elevator on the way up for you will most assuredly meet him again on the way back down" adage. In our business it is a constant, clamoring sea of competitive musicians vying for attention. The effect is often dizzying and frustrating but also hopefully gives us all a healthy and humbling diet of pragmatism. It is part of the difficult dance of ego and reality. On the one hand, I've seen unchecked ego destroy potentially great bands barely out of the starting gate. On the other hand, you have to dig your bad self to some degree or you will never succeed in music or for that matter, in any business.

Cracker and Counting Crows, like very few of our contemporaries have managed to slowly garner and be honored with a loyal following of fans all over this and other countries that come to see us live whether or not we have a hit on the radio at the time. Both bands have survived a decade and a half through turbulent ups and downs, band members managers and crew members being replaced or leaving for various reasons, record label turmoil, a business that has undergone tremendous changes, not to mention marriages, divorces, break ups, births and all manner of personal and emotional upheavals. We have all somehow weathered things that would have splintered most bands years ago. When I see my friends Adam, David, Dan, Charlie and Immy I will remember the nights when as a little boy, my now 18 year old son Hans would shake them down for quarters to play foosball or video games in the small clubs we played. They remember the times when Hans would fall asleep, earplugs intact behind dad's amp as Cracker roared mere feet away. I remember putting cardboard pizza boxes along his mattress on the tour bus to keep him from rolling off the high bunk as we flew through the night to the next city. He would sometimes wake before the band and play with his leggos in the back lounge. I remember once waking to him whispering "Hey, Dad...the guy from the magazine is here. I got him some coffee and told him you would be right out". Such is the life of a rock and rollers' kid. Such is my life. I'm not rich but I get by just fine. I suppose I'm kinda famous, but only to the point where I get the occasional "Hey Johnny!" and some friendly conversation from smiling fans while walking through major cities or airports. I have friends all over the world that I adore. I work with a brilliant and prolific song writing partner who also has a mathematics degree (much like Mick Jagger but on a smaller scale) and watches the bottom line so that we can survive as a company in this fiercely competitive business. I'm one of the estimated 20% of North Americans that actually love their job...well, most of the time. Several days in a row of little sleep, early morning radio interviews and on air performances, hauling equiptment at 2 AM and long drives will always suck but at the end of the day I remember that I feed and clothe my kids with rock and roll. Lucky.